Fifteen years ago Michelle Fine, at that time a professor at University of Pennsylvania published a transformational work entitled “Reframing Dropouts: Notes on the Politics of an Urban Public High School.” Fine spent a year in a New York City comprehensive high school that she called CHS. She interviewed school staff, students and parents, attended meetings, sat in on classrooms and interviewed dropouts. She paints a chilling portrait of a school organized around “efficiency and control” in which a caring staff was “disempowered,” ignored and marginalized by the school administration.
Scores, sometimes hundreds of class size grievances were the norm each term. Fine paraphrases the UFT chair, “The notion that teachers are professionals who carry expertise, who should be trusted and consulted, and who deserve a share of school-based authority … were received by the administration as idiosyncratic and irresponsible.”
In spite of convoluted BOE statistics Fine shows that in the mid eighties only 20% of an entering cohort earned a diploma after six years.
What happened to the dropouts?
Incarceration, out-of-wedlock births, single parenthood, staggering AIDs rates, persistent unemployment and the continuing pathology of poverty in era when a high school diploma only assures a minimum wage.
Fifteen years later has anything changed?
The Kleinberg administration “innovations”?
• they reduced the number of credits from ten to eight to move from the freshman to sophomore years – at that rate it will take a student six years to graduate if they pass ALL their subjects
• Long term absences (students absent at least twenty days in a row) are removed from school registers and are not reflected in average daily attendance figures.
• In many school inept scanning results in enormous lateness and/or absence during the first period class.
• Cutting data is difficult to access and not reflected in school data.
A philosophy of “efficiency and control” still dominates the management of the school system.
After eradicating a host of alternative programs that took decades to development the DOE decides that maybe they are a good idea. Of course, the folk that designed and supported the programs have been driven out of the system. The recycled programs are staggering, suffering from the poor leadership that is characteristic of this administration.
“I do the best job I can in my classroom” is the mantra of teachers. The persons who have the most influence on the lives of children: teachers, are disempowered by a system driven by press releases.
Unfortunately, in the large urban high schools, fifteen years later, nothing has changed. Heroic teachers struggle in a school system that ignores a structure that allows generations of students to drift into a life of poverty and despair.